A Life In the Day of…The Confessions of an Indie Filmmaker

I remember an old saying,”if you wanna make God laugh, tell Him what you have planned for your life.” It was only about 3 months ago that I moved here to Dallas from Detroit; I thought I had it all figured out. After 2 months of living in my car, sleeping in a Walmart parking lot, and sneaking into the middle school where I worked as a custodian to shower before school opened every day, I accepted an invitation to Dallas to start my life over. I was offered an apartment rent free, until I got on my feet and an opportunity to meet people who were making moves in the indie film community. Well, after only a month here I had a job that started me off with decent pay; more than I was making after a year as a custodian and an apartment to call my own; Life was good! That is, until about a week ago when I received a phone call from my landlord telling me that I was being evicted from my apartment because the friend I was giving my rent money to wasn’t actually paying the rent.

Now this is usually the part where I would start naming names and pointing fingers, but– I can’t. Because I realize that there was truly no one to blame but me. I had to see for myself the error of my ways. I put my faith in someone other than God. I am in no way saying that no one can be trusted, but I realize now that you can only trust people to be people. So, here I am…no family…no friends…no car…nowhere to lay my head, but for some reason I’m not afraid. I know that everything we go through in life, good or bad, is for a reason. I know that God is with me. And while I know there will be good days and even more bad ones…God will see me through.   1/24/2013

benchThis passage is not an excerpt from an upcoming novel; It’s not a page from a new screenplay I’m working on. This passage is the first entry from my personal journal. On January 24, 2013 I was officially homeless. A fact that only a handful of people knew; a fact that my family and some of my closest friends will only now find out about after reading this post in my blog.

jungle gymSix months of my first year living in Dallas, TX were spent on the streets. While I made enough money with my new job to eat and occasionally rent a room at the local Motel 6, I couldn’t afford an apartment and after my recent experience with someone whom I considered a friend, I couldn’t imagine taking any chances subletting from a total stranger. It was at that moment I had a choice to make: Give up and retreat back to Detroit or stay in Texas and accomplish what I came here to do; I chose to stay. Not because I’m brave, not because I knew without a doubt that I would be okay. I chose to stay because I was desperate; desperate to succeed. Desperate for something better. I also knew that if I were to return to Detroit, my life was over.

bleachersFor six months I held a steady routine: Weekends were the toughest; most Saturdays I rented a room at the Motel 6 and simply slept. Sundays I lived at Starbucks working on my film and writing. During the week I worked from 8-5; the local Wendy’s from 5:30-9 where I ate and worked on my film and writing; and from 9 until the next morning I wandered the streets, searching for anywhere I could lay my head in peace.

Peace–something I took for granted for so long, before now.

The first 3 months were probably the hardest to get through, because everything else aside, the cold kept me from sleeping more than 2-3 hours a night.

I remember it being so cold some nights, I literally walked for hours just to stay warm.

One night I was apparently sleep walking across a busy intersection, it being so long since I had actually slept, and all I remembered was standing, oblivious, in the middle of the street, flashing sirens, and being questioned by the police who told me that I was almost hit by a car. They assumed, understandably, that I was either high, drunk, or both. I finally convinced them that I was in fact sober and they left me to go on my way, but not before warning me that if they saw me again I would be arrested.

This was the first time I broke down and cried. It was also the first time (of many) that I thought about taking my life; I wanted to stop hurting. I wanted to stop struggling. I wanted to die.

I honestly don’t know what it was that stopped me from killing myself; call it fate, call it divine intervention, or just pure stubbornness, but I kept going. For 3 more months, I kept going. I tried the homeless shelters, but because of the fact that I got off of work so late everyday and they only took a limited number of men, I was left out in the cold (literally). sinkEventually, I found a park nearby my job that was seemingly empty most nights with the exception of the occasional straggler.

For the next 3 months I slept on park benches, bleachers, and the jungle gym, cautious to make sure I was up and at work early enough to bathe in the sink before the rest of the staff got there each day.

Most nights I spent praying, looking to the sky for any hint of God’s presence.

cropped-film-poster.jpgFast forward almost a year and over a hundred journal entries later and while I’m not where I am “going” to be, I am truly thankful to God for where I am: I have a better job, my own apartment, I have spoken to (and more importantly forgiven my friend), I am on the brink of self-publishing my 1st novel “The Rape Diaries” and in the middle of a fundraising campaign for the short film that I spent those long, lonely nights at Wendy’s working on: “The Monster In My Closet

Why am I sharing this? Why now; Especially since I have never before been so transparent with my life? Honestly I don’t know.

I have had people who were privy to this dark time in my life have the audacity to call me brave. Some had the nerve to claim that they admired me for what I was doing. I admittedly am far from deserving of any such title. I am in no way brave or admirable for what I went through. Crazy? Perhaps; Desperate? Absolutely! But nothing that I did, nothing about me warrants admiration. Because if faced with the situation again, I honestly believe my decision would be one of cowardice and surrender.

I prayed that God would one day give me the courage to confess this part of my life because I honestly believe that the things we go through in life are not merely for us alone.

I know right now there is someone…somewhere struggling. I know that right now there is someone…somewhere going through, wondering if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. DISCLAIMER:I am no poster boy for righteous living. I am by no means one of God’s favorites, but for some unexplainable reason, He chose to allow me to make it through and I know if He would show favor to a wretch like me, then He would definitely do it for someone else. I pray that somehow, someway my story will find that “someone else” and provide even the slightest glimpse of hope.  I pray that my struggles, my pain, my heartbreak, and my inevitable success will convince that “someone else” that no matter where you are…no matter what you are going through..YOU are CLOSER than you could ever imagine to your BREAKTHROUGH.

These are NOT words from some highly sanctified preacher with the anointing of prophecy; these are NOT the words of some righteous man  of God who has lived a life of strict servitude and adherence to His word; These are NOT the words of a deserving man who has done his best to follow Christ…no. These ARE the words of a man who has lived a continuous life of ups and downs; bad judgements; and while believing in and seeking to strengthen his relationship with Christ has ultimately  done little to deserve God’s favor. So please know that the words I utter are not from a place of vain empathy, but of sincere understanding. You are forever in my prayers…

This blog post is dedicated to all those who (knowingly or unknowingly) kept me going and inspired during this dark period in my life (if I forget you please charge it to my head and not my heart (I swear I tried to name you all): Jesus; Linda & Damieon Ranson; Stacy Reid; Gelita Mimms; Kenyetta Hughes; Gregory Smith; Chris Sutton; Jeremy Brockman; Devin Laster; Dina Peace; Stacey Muhammad; Trina Hughes; Chiquita Tate; Mike & Terry O’Neal; Angel Scott; Valerie KaylaVal; Tinisha Brugnone; Hiram Damwijk; Nichelle Payne; Rochelle Baker; Anna Richardson; Emily Ann-Johnson; Sheree Johnson; Tiffany Marshall; Elaine Flowers; Lorenzo Lollar; Tekeya Bell; Sharice Henry Chasi; M. Legend Brown; Brooke McCoy; Tyler Perry; Christian Knight; Mianna Adufutse; Fredrick Thornton; Keenan Tindle; Wendy Readous; Elizabeth Atkins; William McDowell; Kirk Franklin; Samatha Drane-Smith; TI; Eminem; Joan Morris; Shawntay Dalon; Carmen Adolphus;  Yolanda Brinkley; Kimmy Chappell; Joel Olsteen; Bishop Anthony Claxton; Antoinette Dawson; Robyn Peoples; Fallon Marie; James Drane; Tiana Bonner; Albany Williams; Tiffany Price; Benita White; Cynthia Peete-Frailey; Jahimnah Harris; Linda Council; Tiffany Bargainer; Roxanna S. Brown; Jamaine & MarquitaBurrus; Chico Pye; Tanisha Stanley; Angela Mapp; Sheryl Brown; Nikki Marie; Ava DuVernay; Denise Drane (my mommy); Willie Rodgers (RIP); The Johnson/Drane Clans & the one Ponder (La Familia); Tishonah Johnson (my baby girl)

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Detroit: A Love Letter

We are so excited to partner with the Dear Detroit: A Love Letter campaign hosted by Indiegogo. This film is close to our hearts because access4artists was founded in Detroit.

We interviewed the writer/director Malcolm Johnson to get an inside look into this project. Make sure you check out the campaign and donate!

Determination: A Fool’s gold?

de·ter·mi·na·tion [dih-tur-muh-ney-shuhn] the quality of being determined to do or achieve something.

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     Never have I understood better than I do now, the struggles of being an Independent filmmaker. Especially living in a city where there is seemingly no established infrastructure that exists for the film industry. In a city where so many speak of change, but when the time comes to put away the petitions, protest signs, and angry social media rhetoric & inspiring quotations and actually crawl into the trenches, those same people are nowhere to be found. In a city that once boasted some of the greatest entertainers/artists of our time.

    Perhaps I’m a little bitter. Perhaps I am frustrated. Or perhaps I have been so blinded by my own ambitions to affect and inspire change in my dilapidated city, that I refuse to face the realities I am now forced face to face with. “No one cares.”

     For the last two months I have been actively promoting & soliciting contributions for my docu-drama film “Dear Detroit: A Love Letter” and with two weeks remaining in the Indiegogo campaign I am no closer to reaching the $25,000 goal. Perhaps it was naive of me to believe that people actually cared about the making of a film that, unlike the numerous documentaries that have exploited the negativity and ugliness of Detroit, {many produced by people who do not and/or have never lived in the city of Detroit} hoped to inspire change and breath new life into Motown, showing the beauty of Detroit.

     It’s ironic to me when I think about how many people were outraged at the inability of millionaire, Hollywood Producer George Lucas to secure funding from major Hollywood studios for his film “Red Tails.”  Every social media website was littered with angry rants and raves from people demanding that we all rush to the theatres to support his film. Yet I see so many Indie Filmmakers struggling to make their first film, get passed by or even worse, taunted {myself included}, for soliciting the help of the general public via crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, etc. Lord knows I have lost count of the numerous negative responses to my requests for help with the funding of my feature length docu-drama.

     I have to be honest, I have no idea where I’m going with this. Perhaps, in a moment of spiritual weakness, I just needed to vent. Maybe I am finally ready to admit that I am slightly shaken by the possibility of not reaching our goal to get this film made. Or maybe, just maybe I am fed up with people who only give when it benefits them. Maybe it’s all of these things…I don’t know; But what I DO know is that I have never been more inspired! I have never been more determined then I am now. And with that being said, I am now reaching out to my fellow Independent artists and bloggers for help. No matter who you are…no matter what City, State, or Country you reside in– “Dear Detroit: A Love Letter” needs your help. I need your help. Please visit the link: http://www.indiegogo.com/Dear-Detroit-A-Love-Letter  & CONTRIBUTE to the making of our Indie film. {Perks given dependent on the size of your contribution…}

PS — Thank you for allowing my soul to vent. Peace & Blessings.

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CLICK HERE to SUPPORT INDIE!!!

NEVER has there been a film about Detroit, made by actual Detroiters, in a docu-drama style, that shares the intimate experiences of actual Detroiters intertwined with inspiring, character-driven, narrative shorts & highlights the positive side of Motown; Isn’t it about time there was? If you are a supporter of Detroit, Indie Film, the Arts in general {or none of the above} PLEASE visit the link & CONTRIBUTE to the making of our independent film.

No A-List ‘Hollywood’ Actors. No big-budget Hollywood Studio backing. No Special Effects. No Famous Hollywood Screenwriter/Director. Just an Indie Film Producer & Writer/Director (who have won a couple of awards)asking for your help. No matter who you are…no matter where you are from you can HELP us reach our goal…HELP us restore the image of Motown. We have 29 Days to raise $24,765. Piece of cake!!! {FAITH}

SYNOPSIS:

“Dear Detroit: A Love Letter”: A struggling artist who must choose between chasing his own dreams or the dreams his girlfriend has for him; a man attends court-ordered therapy after suffering an emotional breakdown; a tom-boyish, young girl comes to the rescue of a boy, being harassed by schoolyard bullies; A mother & her two sons come together to get affairs in order for their dying husband/father; Love at first sight on the people mover. A photographer caught in a love triangle with a beautiful young woman & her lover; A carjacker who has a sudden change of heart.

The Road to Production is Paved with Good Intentions. The Making of “Dear Detroit: A Love Letter”

It seemed only days ago, when my creative partner and Producer, Gregory Smith and I birthed the concept for what would become our first feature-length film, the docu-drama, “Dear Detroit: A Love Letter.”

After a long, somewhat grueling pre-production meeting for our short film “The 1st Time I Committed Suicide,”  we found ourselves at a local bar {the birthplace of many of our creative ideas.} After our second or fourth round of single malt scotch he began to express, quite colorfully, his utter disdain for the negative media exposure of our city which once proudly boasted the deemed Motown. Clueless of where this slightly inebriated discussion was headed, my quasi genius friend had a revelation; “We should make a documentary that shows the positive side of Detroit.”

Immediately, what followed was a series of brainstorming notes scribbled on cocktail napkins and celebratory high fives. And in a brief moment of sobriety, the extinguished light bulb hovering above my head illuminated; “Instead of a traditional documentary, why not an eclectic mix of narrative short films intertwined with testimonials from real Detroiters sharing a single moment–an intimate experience that caused them to fall in love with the city. It was at that very moment, “Dear Detroit: A Love Letter” was born.

The next couple of months found our concept simmering on the back burner as we persevered the typical trials and tribulations of our short film production starring a brilliant local actress, Carmen Adolphus.

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After some much needed R&R and the footage from our short film patiently awaiting post-production, it was time to turn the heat up on “Dear Detroit: A Love Letter” The foundation was laid and the stories scribed that best embodied the true essence of Detroit:

The struggling artist forced to choose between his emasculating girlfriend and his own ambitions; A man forced to undergo court-ordered therapy after a psychotic breakdown; A young girl comes to the aid of a boy being harassed by schoolyard bullies;  The carjacker stricken with a conscience after a startling revelation; The mother and her two sons scramble to get the affairs of her dying husband in order; Love at 1st sight on the people mover.

Next came location scouting for what would become “The Psychiatrist Office”; fortunately I had the perfect location in mind.

I am reminded of an old saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what you have planned for your life.”

The ‘perfect’ location we had selected for the film proved to be ‘not-so-perfect’ at the cost of $2,500 per day {for a four day production}. This was approximately $9,999 than were were realistically able to spend at the time. I must confess, the whole ordeal of “The Psychiatrist Office” nearly forced me to seek therapy. However, just as quickly as that door closed {slammed} in our face, another quickly opened.

A dear friend and fellow Director Tinisha Brugnone put me in touch with a colleague of hers who just so happened to be a restaurant owner and supporter of the Michigan Film Industry. He was more than willing to allow us unlimited access to his establishment for our short “The Restaurant Scene” for the Indie Film special price of: FREE.

Now came the  always tedious task of casting the talent.

The role of Elizabeth was reserved for the phenomenal star of our short film “The 1st Time I Committed Suicide,” Carmen Adolphus. {She is after all, the DiCaprio to my Scorsese.}

The role of Malik was earned by my brilliant Detroit, by way of New York, Casting/Art Director Devin Laster; ironically , a struggling artist himself.

Perhaps the most difficult task was finding the actress who would fill the shoes of Donna, the sassy restaurant waitress.

After days of sifting through countless head shots, failed impromptu casting calls, and weeping into my pillow, I discovered an inexperienced, yet talented, diamond in the rough, Deborah Claybaugh.

Fast forward past several months of production meetings, script reads & rewrites, camera tests, blocking rehearsals, wardrobe fittings, production, and mini-strokes and “The Restaurant Scene” was a wrap and patiently waiting to be sculpted into our first completed short for “Dear Detroit: A Love Letter.”

With imported beers in hand, my brilliant Editor and I spent countless hours cutting, trimming, yelling, and debating as we pieced together the trailer for our anxiously awaited fundraising campaign on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo with the intentions of completing production of the film over the summer.

Now comes the moment of truth. Our fundraising campaign was launched with the the goal of $25,000 in order to secure the locations, permits, and equipment rentals for finishing production on our film.

Two weeks and endless days/nights of non-stop promoting and soliciting later, we are far from our goal. Ironically, our largest contributor thus far does not even reside in Detroit.

If there is one lesson my past experiences has taught me, it’s that faith and perseverance are two of the most important attributes an Indie filmmaker must posses in order to survive in this industry {that and a massive stockpile of coffee and five hour energy drinks}.  Luckily, I have been blessed with all of the above.

I refuse to allow the possibility of failure to hinder my success.

If you support: Indie Film, Detroit, the Arts in general, all of the above, or none of the above, please CLICK HERE and contribute to the making of our feature length film.

Dear Detroit: A Love Letter (Trailer)

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Please visit link & contribute to the production of this Indie Film:

http://www.indiegogo.com/Dear-Detroit-A-Love-Letter?a=108510

SYNOPSIS: “Dear Detroit: A Love Letter” is so much more than a film. It is an inspirational, cinematic confession of an unconditional love that exists for our city, despite her woes.. It shares the most intimate experiences & memories told by real Detroiters. These testimonials, intertwined with an eclectic mix of narrative short films, symbolic of our city & her occupants, who call Detroit home: A struggling artist who must choose between chasing his own dreams or the dreams his girlfriend has for him; a man attends court ordered therapy after suffering an emotional breakdown; a tom-boyish, young girl comes to the rescue of a boy, being harassed by schoolyard bullies; A mother & her two sons come together to get affairs in order for their dying husband/father; Love at first sight on the people mover. A photographer caught in a love triangle with a beautiful young woman & her lover; A carjacker who has a sudden change of heart

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Dear Detroit: A Love Letter (Where is the love???)

   One day into fundraising for my next film Dear Detroit: A Love Letter & I am already,officially, dazed & confused. Between the empty promises of supporting to the obviously blatant, irrelevant remarks in regard to the film I find myself in a state of constant fear that, NO ONE GETS ME!!!  This, I guess, is the life of a struggling artist. I find myself questioning (as I’m sure every artist has) whether or not this is truly my calling.

     I know, it is far too early to be stressing and questioning my direction in life. But sometime, I find it uncanny, some of the responses I receive in my quest to make “Dear Detroit: A Love Letter’ more than a pile of unproduced scripts and legal pad development notes. I am reminded of Spike Lee in almost every interview he has done in his references to not finding the support to get his films made. Then I ask myself: If Spike Lee is going through this, how the hell will I ever accomplish this???

     I guess this is why it’s called: FAITH…Anyway, thank you for allowing me to vent (So much more to come.) Oh, by the way, PLEASE visit the link & contribute to my independent film Dear Detroit: A Love Letter. (You don’t have to be from Detroit to support. So please SUPPORT). Thank you (in advance). Peace & Blessings.